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Sunday 18.03.2018 | Name days: Ilona, Adelīna

Foreign experts shocked about education program survey in Latvia

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The scandal surrounding the evaluation of higher education is becoming more popular – talks about data fabrication grow into new suspicions. Talks have now reached the Higher Education Council (HEC), which previously heavily criticized the Education and Science Minister Roberts Kilis.

The higher education evaluation was awaited with grand expectations – to finally determine which university education programs offer the best education experience in Latvia. In order to determine this, 237 local and foreign experts were called in. The European Social Fund provided one million LVL for this initiative. A unique research project was planned – to evaluate Latvia’s university education programs in accordance with European methods and standards, Nekā Personīga (Nothing Personal) programme of TV3 reports.

59 universities and colleges and a total of 857 education programs participated in the project. Universities were happy to participate also because this would give them a cheaper education program accreditation process. However, the results were not nearly as expected. It was discovered that the foreign education program evaluation principles differ from Latvian practice. Teachers of Latvian universities who have worked abroad as foreign experts admit that local experts elsewhere are only used as advisors or informants – they do not participate in decision making. Also there were a number of conflicts of interests.

One of the recognized foreign experts – British representative Jillian Hillard – who led the experts’ commission, admits that Latvia’s experience definitely does not comply with the internationally accepted practice. When asked whether this was a European Union level research, the expert said: “Honestly – I was shocked. It was very poorly prepared. If there ever was an intention to review all state programs in such an area as education, which requires careful preparation and preliminary research in order to review every case – there was none. We’ve had a lack of knowledge, information, even with actual names of education programs, which seemed to change every time we received documents. This is why I believe and I was told, we were doing a pilot survey.”

Latvian expert Laura Valtere told the programme: “There is an issue that the data we submitted to the ministry, most of which we compiled ourselves, were made up by us.But we are not sure that the ministry’s submitted data is the real data we reported.” When asked what makes her think that way, Valtere said that the data that was submitted to the ministry lacked the experts’ signatures.

HEC told the programme that there were mistakes. “Some part of the experts wrote reports that they made mistakes in certain education program evaluations and that they definitely should be higher. HEC as a managing committee had reviewed all materials and made the decision that HEC did not alter any names or lines in documents signed by experts. We have a reports signed by experts, an application from universities and a number of separate reports from experts, stating that there actually have been errors. All this was submitted to the Accreditation Commission, which will use it in making decisions regarding accreditation,” – explains HEC Chairman Janis Vetra.

Some evaluation criteria were not formulated clear enough. This is why results based on those criteria were not only different in some cases, but also outright absurd. For example, it would have been logical for the criteria governing whether an education program is able to secure students or personnel of a university a room in a hotel or some other service to coincide all across the University of Latvia. But it did not. Some LU programs received 4 points, others – 2.

The problems are also noted by the fact that some experts downright refused to put digit assessments. However, when those experts left, numbers actually appeared in documents.

According to the organizer of the project – Higher Education Council – there are no other problems. One look at the stacks of papers with assessment marks explains why errors in evaluation were made. Nonetheless, the overall result is positive, believe the representatives of the organization.

Everyone agrees that a project of this scale should not have been carried out in a hurry – experts only had a week (otherwise Latvia could have lost European money). There was also the need to finish before September – when education program accreditation begins. It is also noted that the amount of allocated funding turned out to be smaller than expected.

Universities hope that this work will not be forgotten, because opinions of foreign experts have weight after all.


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